Why hotel bathroom amenities from Paris to Hong Kong are becoming so much more than fancy extras
Hotel toiletries are moving beyond being just being an additional touch of luxury. Now they are a symbol of identity for hotels, and niche brands are cashing in
For many hotels, their boasts of wonderful location or luxurious lodgings are no longer enough. To seal a booking these days, hoteliers have to offer anything from complimentary racing cars and butler services to astronomy lessons. This charm offensive even has a name: “amenity creep”.
The trend has even spread to the things you find in your hotel bathroom. Toiletries have come a long way from the days where a no-name soap and a bottle of shampoo were sufficient. That’s partly to do with airline security restrictions, which make travelling with a full skincare regimen tricky. Industry figures show that more than 75 per cent of hotel guests use the toiletries provided.
Sub-par products just don’t cut it any more, so high-end hotels tap upscale brands from posh department stores. Paris’ Mandarin Oriental, for example, goes for Diptyque, while the Park Hyatt New York leans towards Le Labo.
Such little luxuries come at a price, ranging from an extra HK$10 (US$1.30) per room per night for entry-level hotels to HK$200 or more at five-star hotels. Yet they are so ubiquitous that guests consider them “price of entry” – meaning basic, expected items whose absence is annoying – according to a study by Rick Garlick and Joyce Schlentner from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Victoire de Taillac-Touhami, a seasoned traveller and co-founder of retro-luxury brand Officine Générale Buly, loves discovering the toiletries that await him when he checks in.
“Toiletries are an integral, pleasurable part of discovering my room, and are always something rather local,” he says. “The hotel’s identity is there, so if it is rooted in a city, that stands out, particularly if it’s a brand.”
The Hôtel de Crillon, a Rosewood hotel, is a historic landmark of Paris, so when it sought new bath amenities after of its renovation, French heritage brand Buly was a logical choice. It traces its roots back to 18th-century pharmacist Jean-Vincent Bully, a contemporary of the hotel’s original aristocratic owner.
“Our choice went to Buly, a Parisian brand whose quality and history reflect those of our hotel,” says general manager Marc Raffray. Guests can enjoy miniature versions of the brand’s hit soap and body oils, alongside its dental paste, freshly developed hair care and wooden artisanal toothbrushes.
Such prestigious placements are a springboard for beauty brands.
“[Park Hyatt] found us when no one even knew we existed,” says Fabrice Penot, founder of cult perfume brand Le Labo. “It says a lot about how they want to break boundaries and what they want to bring to their clients in terms of discovery; to discover something you’ve never experienced before.” Le Labo started collaborating with hotels such as the Park Hyatt New York in 2008 and can be found in establishments from Hong Kong’s Tuve Hotel and Les Bains in Paris (with its signature Santal 33 scent) to Edition hotels worldwide.
High demand has pushed the brand to develop Hinoki and Basil, two bath-specific products, to widen their amenity offerings while also improving the at-home experience – given how many customers depart with their amenities. Park Hyatt New York estimates 30 per cent of its guests take products home, while a 2015 Hilton survey puts the figure at 73 per cent.
But for others, developing their own range had less to do with cost and more to do with a holistic approach. Paris institution Les Bains developed a bath range named Les Bains Guerbois, after its heritage as a 19th-century spa, which is sold in its hotel shop, but continues to offer Le Labo in its rooms, given the costs involved in developing new amenities.
The Hoxton, with hotels in Paris, London and soon the United States, has developed its own line of toiletries, working with a specialised manufacturer to produce the Blank line, available as full-sized containers in rooms and also to be sold online and in each location’s shop.
Travelling to Marfa’s El Cosmico means returning with a heady dose of art and a bottle of their Dry Desert Oil, a blend of vetiver, palo santo and cedarwood juniperus oils. A stay at the Grand Hawaiian in Honolulu, meanwhile, includes sampling home-grown cult organic brand Malie. As for Ace Hotels, a favourite among the creative set, its Pearl+ soaps-on-ropes featuring crushed pearls need no introduction.
Despite cost of developing amenities, the benefits can extend far beyond the hotel and its guests.
“We started out with a well-known brand, but we wanted to go towards something natural, organic and that went with our vision of hospitality,” says Jérémie Trigano, chief executive officer of Mama Shelter, a brand of seven hotels in cities such as Paris, Prague, Rio and Los Angeles.
Trigano turned to French organic beauty brand Absolution to create Mama Skin, a short range of all-in-one products including a hair-and-body wash, a face-and-body cream and organic soap bars.
“For us, this range is a selling point towards our customers but also when pitching to investors.”